Posted on Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Magnetic Brain Stimulation Eases Tinnitus


It is estimated that 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus. Tinnitus is a condition where no discernible noise is present but people hear a phantom buzzing, whistling, humming, or beeping sound. Although these noises seem to be in the ears, they actually originate within the brain. It's not surprising therefore that new research has focused on the brain. In a recent study, repeated transcranial magnetic stimulation or rTMS showed promise in treating tinnitus.

Although repeated transcranial magnetic stimulation was invented in the 80's, it wasn't approved for use by the FDA as a medical device until recently. In 2008, it was approved for use on patients who suffered from depression. According to an article on US News & World Report, "Depression is a disease that stems from a lack of activity in certain parts of the brain – specifically the prefrontal cortex, the region right above the eyes that helps regulate emotions."

Interestingly enough, the phantom sounds of tinnitus are thought to be the brain's way of trying to regain lost auditory stimulation in the brain due to hearing loss. Some evidence has suggested that both depression and tinnitus could be related to problems within the limbic system of the brain. This makes sense since the limbic system is responsible for your moods, but it also plays a part in regulating sensory information like hearing.

So how does rTMS work to alleviate both of these conditions? Repeated transcranial magnetic stimulation rTMS works by sending a magnetic impulse deep into the brain. These signals are thought to reinvigorate or revive weakened brain tissue. Although there has been some success with this treatment for tinnitus--56% of those in the active rTMS group responded to treatment--the type of treatment is not one and done. The key word here is repeated or the "r" in rTMS. Patients treated at the VA Portland Medical Center and Oregon Health & Science University during rTMS study, according to ScienceDaily, "...underwent TMS sessions on 10 consecutive workdays, receiving 2,000 pulses of TMS per session."

The side effects of rTMS treatment are thought to be mild and as described by Wikipedia, "include fainting or seizures." It can also include, not surprisingly, slight pain and headaches in the treatment areas. Although approval of rTMS for treating tinnitus is still some time away, this type of research continues to expand upon a condition that has long held many questions for hearing health professionals and those who suffer from it. Knowledge of treatment options is as important as determining a cause when treating this condition. That's why it's essential for people who suffer with tinnitus to recognize it could be a symptom of underlying condition like hearing loss or diabetes.

If you'd like to learn more about current tinnitus treatments, please see your hearing health professional or audiologist. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

Oregon Health & Science University. "Magnetic pulses to the brain deliver long-lasting relief for tinnitus patients: Depression treatment tool holds tremendous promise for patients with debilitating condition." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150716124118.htm (accessed February 16, 2016).

Kirstin Fawcett, US News & World Report. "Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation: What It Is and Who Needs It?" http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2014/12/15/... (Taken on Feb 16, 2016)


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